‘We move the world’: the mobile labor of Filipino seafarers

In this article Johanna Markkula explores how narratives about Filipino seafarers mobile labour shapes Filipino seafarers everyday experiences onboard ships today.

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The mobilities literature often draws on a maritime vocabulary, but has more seldom engaged with the everyday lives of maritime workers. With ninety percent of all goods transported by sea, seafarers literally move the world.

Since the 1970s, Filipino sailors in particular have emerged as the most important nationality within this global mobile labor force. Often facing discrimination, racialized representations and obstacles to social mobility onboard their moving worksites, these workers draw on certain vernacular narratives to claim historical authenticity and a natural propensity to seafaring, thereby justify their right to belong in contemporary shipping.

Johanna Markkula uses ethnography from onboard cargo ships and ashore in the Philippines to show how such narratives themselves become forces of production for the mobile labor of Filipino seafarers. Drawing on Cresswell’s concept of ‘constellations of mobility,’ the article explores how the mobile labor of Filipino seafarers is narrated as geographically and historically formed and how this shapes Filipino seafarers’ everyday experiences onboard ships today. By critically examining the historical production of maritime labor, as well as its contemporary social reproduction through such narratives, this ethnography of Filipino seafarers’ ‘mobile labor’ shows the coproduction of labor, racialization and mobility in the shipping industry.

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Published Feb. 25, 2021 10:29 AM - Last modified Mar. 15, 2021 2:02 PM